Danse Élargie: Dance Expanded – London

Kwame Asafo-Adjei’s <I>Family Honour</I>.<br />© Gomez Villamor. (Click image for larger version)
Kwame Asafo-Adjei’s Family Honour.
© Gomez Villamor. (Click image for larger version)

Danse Élargie: Dance Expanded
featuring work by (LA) HORDE, Ousmane Sy, Kwame Asafo-Adjei, Elsa Chêne, Clémentine Vanlerberghe, Fabritia D’Intino, Jusung Lee and Pietro Marullo
London, Sadler’s Wells
11 October 2019

Seven international companies appeared on the Sadler’s Wells main stage, all of whom are prize winners of the bi-annual international competition Danse Élargie: Dance Expanded.  The brain wave of Boris Charmatz and director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, Danse Élargie is open to international artists whose work is interdisciplinary. The requirements ask that there must be at least three performers and that entries should be no longer than ten minutes.

The competition, organised each year by the Theatre de la Ville in Paris and featuring over 300 participants, throws up a staggering diversity of work. What we see at Sadler’s Wells, from a selected bunch of winners, are imaginative concepts, energy and committed performances. There’s also solidarity amongst the groups, evident from the whoops in the audience and the buzz on stage that makes this an enjoyable and positive experience for all involved. However, while there’s an exciting unpredictability to the evening and lots to appreciate, it’s also quite frustrating to watch. Strong ideas initially understood in all the works fail to develop; darkness and shadows are the preferred lighting states for most, creating a samey, gloomy atmosphere; the programme would be better suited to a smaller, more intimate venue and tenuous threads that may or may not link the seven chosen works, create a disjointed evening.

The programme includes two high energy dance works by France’s (LA) HORDE and Ousmane Sy, both a display of impressive teamwork; one hip hop theatre piece by UK’s Kwame Asafo-Adjei; two poetic, meditative works by France/Belgium’s Elsa Chêne and France/Italy’s Clémentine Vanlerberghe and Fabritia D’Intino. Then we see two visual art spectacles by South Korea’s Jusung Lee and Italy/Belgium’s Pietro Marullo all of which give us a snap- shot of how porous the artistic boundaries are for Dance Elargie.

Jusung Lee’s Eye.© Laurent Phillipe. (Click image for larger version)
Jusung Lee’s Eye.
© Laurent Phillipe. (Click image for larger version)

Rather than dwelling on the merits and disappointments of each work I want to highlight what I enjoyed the most. In Kwame Asafo-Adjei’s Family Honour, two daughters and fathers argue about tradition and values over a table, their punchy, physical repartee of popping punctuated by beat boxing and narrative. An older, patriarchal generation struggles with a younger, enlightened female one, their clashes and differences delivered through a creative hip hop theatricality.  More refreshingly different hip hop featured in Ousmane Sy’s Queen Blood. Seven young women dance flat out in a language of gesture and high energy technique testing out ideas around femininity. Their tight knit formation allows each of them to freak out with their own idiosyncratic style yet the power of the pack and their excellent synchronisation as they cover the stage makes Queen Blood a girl-power-feel-good experience.

Elsa Chêne’s quiet, still beach in Mur/mer is a painterly piece with a mood inspite of its absence of either sea, horizon or landscape. Bathers walk on stage leisurely and find their sunbathing spots, facing upstage, gazing towards the blue/grey void of the cyclorama. An interesting cast of mature performers enact repetitive gestures that are meaningless without the usual markers of pleasant sea and sand. The wishy-washy non-colour of the void at which they stare reminds me of Seurat’s beach paintings and their provocative emptiness. Mur/mer is a fascinating reflection on climate change and asks questions about how as humans we might respond to the gradual changes taking place on our planet.

A huge black plastic, billowing, pillow filled with air devours the stage in Pietro Marullo’s Wreck – List of extinct species. The audience love this gigantic amoeba-like form which hovers over the stage and into the auditorium with a life of its own. But Wreck gets even better when gradually and unpredictably the sculpture vomits out naked human beings from its malleable folds.  Dim lighting and extensive shadow coverage make this a delicious visual hide-and-seek but at one point all six dancers are exposed, frozen in a tableau of dramatic poses. They suggest a scene from Hell – their faces locked in grimaces as if anticipating their imminent extinction. And sure enough while they try and escape in sequences of dexterous leaps from the enveloping grips of the sea-monster, they soon disappear beneath it. There’s something quite ridiculous about the whole spectacle but it’s a clever concept and delights audience members who reach up to try and touch the sculpture’s looming form as it escapes the stage and floats menacingly above us.

Another visual fascination from tonight’s programme is produced by the delicate white balls or eyes in Jusung Lee’s Eye. Three performers play around with thousands of these charismatic, mobile objects which continually roll towards or away from them and eventually spill out into the audience. While the message about what these little objects signify is not obvious, and eye in Korean has a double meaning, the interactions and movement between dancers and eyes are nevertheless riveting.

Danse Élargie is a great way to ‘expand’ understandings of dance, encourage innovation and expose both young and emerging choreographers but leaves many questions unanswered about the competition itself, how the winners are decided and why this particular group of seven were programmed for Sadler’s Wells.

About the author

Josephine Leask

Josephine Leask is a dance writer and lecturer. Having written for a range of dance and art publications, she currently writes for Londondance and the Dance Insider. She lectures in cultural studies at London Studio Centre. Follow her on Twitter @jo_leask

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